Friday, June 1, 2012

Pricing Pains

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries and thrillers
I love most of what I do—writing novels, blogging, designing covers, hosting giveaways, chatting with book clubs—all good fun. But I loathe setting prices on my e-books. I’ve read lots of discussions on the subject and I’ve thought about the numbers until my eyes crossed over. Some authors say the 99-cent price devalues books and that they sell plenty of their self-published novels at around $5. Yet so many books were priced at $.99, many authors felt they had to have at least one book set there to be competitive. Joe Konrath has experimented a lot with pricing and I generally follow his lead.

Lately, a few indie blogs say Amazon has changed its algorithm again, this time giving more weight to higher-priced books. The speculation is that after all the free downloads generated by the Select program and giveaways, Amazon is trying to move authors away from free and almost-free.

From the beginning, Amazon set $2.99-$9.99 as the sweet spot by offering a 70% royalty on books priced in that range (and only a 35% royalty on everything outside.) I’ve tried to keep my books just inside that range with a few offered for less to encourage readers to try my series.

No one really knows for sure what the algorithms are doing, but observation leads me to think the speculation might be true. Suddenly, there are fewer .99-cent books on the genre bestseller lists and many more books price between $5 and $10...and even higher.

What’s an author to do? I hate raising prices, but I can't let my  books slip off the lists for lack of weight. Once that happens, they lose visibility and sales drop even farther. So I’m experimenting with prices.

I raised the price of Secrets to Die For, my lead-in Jackson book, from $.99 to $2.99, thinking it would make the new algorithm happy. It didn’t. In 48 hours, my book slid from #37 on the police procedural list to #67. Panicked, I priced it back at $.99, and it’s stable for now. But I notice other 99-cent books, which have held solid spots for months, are now slipping.

Conversely, two other Jackson books, I raised from $2.99 to $3.99 to offset the money I lose on my 99-cent books and to see what would happen. Sales/rankings went up a little.

So what does all this mean? Hell if I know. I'm thoroughly confused. I hate pricing and will be glad when Amazon is making these decisions for me.

Writers: What has your experience with Amazon pricing been lately?

Readers: Do the price changes drive you crazy?


  1. "I hate pricing and will be glad when Amazon is making these decisions for me."

    LJ, I feel your pain but no matter how much you hate pricing, you will hate it even more if Amazon takes over & sets your prices in ways that turn out to be disadvantageous to you. Please don't even think about giving up an important part of author control!

    Back in the day, Bantam decided to price the mmpb edition of one of my TradPubbed books "promotionally." I don't remember the price any more but it was way lower than any other mmpb at that time. Turned out to be a disaster.

    Please learn from my very expensive lesson and beware of Answered Prayers!

  2. My paperback version, which I priced at $12.99 is currently being offerred by Amazon for $9.35. I assume they're matching B&N or something.

    I've considered raising the e-book price from $2.99 to $3.99, and may do that prior to the release of my second book.

  3. Ruth, I just signed an 11-book deal with Amazon, and I feel confident they know the market well enough to make great pricing decisions. They make decisions based on exhaustive data.

    I don't put Amazon in the same category as other traditional publishers, and they're the only company I even considered signing with.

  4. I am hesitant to purchase a book that sells for .99cents because I have had such horrible experiences with the books that I bought at that price. Very poor editing, formatting, and dismal writing makes me shy away from them. If one writes a good book, has a great editor and a stellar plot line, one should price their book accordingly.

  5. LJ, Didn't know about your Amazon deal. No, TradPub doesn't equate.

  6. LJ, maybe that was a fluke that Secrets to Die For slipped at the same time you raised the price. As a reader, I love a bargain, but I think conscientious, talented authors like you work way too hard at producing a high-quality novel to price it below $2.99 - which is already a bargain! Pricing your books below that devalues them, I think.

  7. The thing is, I don't think we ever know why our books sell better at Price X than Price Y. You'd think more people would gobble up cheaper books (I know a few people who don't buy anything over $2.99), but that's not always the case.

    I had everything priced at 99 cents at first, thinking that as a new author, I just wanted to garner some interest. Then I started reading message boards and readers were saying 99 cents was a big turnoff, a sure sign you were in for a crappy ride. So I put HIT OR MISSUS at $2.99 and sold NO copies for the MONTH. I set it back at 99 cents and it started selling.

    Once I went into the Kindle Select program (sounds kinda like Witness Protection), I offered HIT OR MISSUS for free for one day, then priced it at $2.99. That's when it started to sell.

    But I've noticed, I get a lot of sales action in the month after I offer a book for free, then the next month, it drops down again. What's up with that?

  8. It's a crapshoot. (I meant to add that earlier, and Gayle's comment reminded me.)

  9. Great post LJ.

    There are so many moving parts in marketing. It is impossible to isolate the impact price has by itself. But I think you are right that Amazon and its algorithm have the biggest impact on what sells and what doesn't.

    When your books move over you'll be fortunate to have their muscle behind you. So your worries about pricing might be short lived.

  10. I've heard about the algorithm changes as well, and the top twenty list seems to support the theory, as the higher priced books are now dominating. My books slipped some in the Top 100 around the same time word came out about this, even though sales have remained constant--another possible indication.

    The pricing game can maddening, but like CJ said, there are so many moving parts in this equation, and I've become convinced that no one action is going to spur or hinder sales. Not even two or three. They're the result of a number of factors.

    What's an author to do? I've decided to relax and let the dust settle--and we're nowhere near that point yet.

  11. I love the freedom of setting my own prices on both ebooks and POD. I prefer the 2.99 to 3.99 range for novels. Some of my nonfiction I go to 5.99 and 6.99. I don't think the .99 cents made much of a difference in outcome, even for the first book in two of our six-book series.

    But what I love is changing the price at any time I decide to do so.

    I'm not much in a mood to pay any more than 6.99 for an ebook, even a big name author. I believe I've only bought a 9.99 priced ebook once. And if it is a nonfiction book I may want for my enjoyment and reference library I will buy a tradepaper or hardcover.

  12. I love the freedom to change prices too, but it's also a responsibility, and I never feel like I have enough information to make good choices.

  13. I changed the price on one of my 99 cent books to $2.99, while leaving the other alone. My 99 cent book still cracks the top 100 in its genre, while the other has dropped dramatically.

    However, because of the royalty shift, I'm making much more money. The breaking point between the 99 cent book and the $2.99 book is something like 5 or 6 to one. So, I only have to sell 1/5th the number of copies at the new price.

    I also (and all of this was done prior to hearing about the algorithm shift) put up a new book at $3.99, and its sales are growing at a higher rate than any of my other debut books did.

    But do I have a clue why? Nope. Maybe people are starting to hear of me, or they've read other books in the series and want to read this one now that it's finally digitized. Or maybe it's because it got some buzz when it won the HOLT Medallion contest for Best Romantic Suspense.

    If I understood how it worked, I might try to play with things, but for now, I try to be as hands off as possible.

    (And I fear the 'driving readers crazy' part; I don't want them waiting to see if I'll drop a price before they'll buy)

    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery


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